Fredericton – Migrant justice and farmer organizations are speaking out against Premier Blaine Higgs’ April 28 announcement that New Brunswick will be closing its borders to new temporary foreign workers.
“Migrant workers are not the risk. Like every other person entering New Brunswick, newly landed workers would undergo a two-week period of self-quarantine. They need support, not scapegoating,” according to No One Is Illegal Fredericton.
Connie Sorio is with the faith-based social justice organization, KAIROS, and has worked closely with temporary foreign workers in New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island.
“Let’s stop using the temporary foreign workers as scapegoats of our own inefficiency and lack of regards to their rights and safety as has been the usual practice in the past. The arguments presented to justify the ban speak loudly of our shortcomings, not of the workers,” says Sorio.
No One Is Illegal Fredericton is calling on the province to reverse its decision to close the border to new temporary foreign workers and requesting people send a letter to Premier Higgs here.
Kevin Arseneau, Green Member of the Legislative Assembly for Kent North, is also opposed to the decision. Arseneau tweeted, “A temporary migrant worker is not a tradable commodity that can be moved from left to right, he/she is a human being. A worker who has come to work in the fisheries sector cannot be forced to work in agriculture or manufacturing.”
Joining No One Is Illegal Fredericton and the Migrant Rights Network in their opposition to the closing of New Brunswick’s borders to new temporary foreign workers are farmer organizations: the National Farmers Union in New Brunswick, the Agricultural Alliance of New Brunswick and Really Local Harvest.
Tim Livingstone is the co-owner of Strawberry Hill Farm, an organic family farm located outside of Woodstock. The farm has employed temporary foreign workers for more than four years.
On the decision to close the borders to new temporary foreign workers, Livingston says, “This is cutting the means by which we have to produce. They want us to increase vegetable production but want us to hire people who may leave at the drop of a hat or before our season has finished.”
The farmer organizations want Higgs to respect protocols put in place by the federal government and Health Canada. They say the temporary foreign workers are critical to keeping their farms operating and to providing local food security in a time of COVID-19.
The migrant justice groups and farmer alliances in New Brunswick want the workers to be able to enter the province and quarantine in safety and dignity, with income support and access to health care, including access to testing and language- and community-specific care.
In other provinces, the governments are covering the cost of quarantine for temporary foreign workers.
Inspired by art organizer David Solnit who has been coordinating “virtual art builds,” No One Is Illegal Halifax and supporters launched a virtual banner on April 29 that reads “Leave No One Behind: Healthcare for Migrants Now.” The group is also encouraging Nova Scotians to sign an open letter demanding that the Nova Scotia government ensure full health care access to all, regardless of immigration status.
Liberal Member of Parliament Dominic LeBlanc says Higgs’ decision to close the border is not supported by the Canadian government. LeBlanc’s Beauséjour riding is home to seafood processing plants in the Shediac and surrounding areas that employ many temporary foreign workers.
The closure of the border to new temporary foreign workers is shedding more light on super-exploited migrant labour in Canada.
“Temporary work agreements are rarely beneficial to the workers. Their main aim is to help employers, generally located in the Global North, in maintaining a profitable business,” wrote Raluca Bejan, a scholar on migration, for Rabble.
About half a million people enter Canada every year on temporary foreign work permits. The workers’ stays are treated as temporary, a situation that migrant advocacy groups say needs to change by granting the workers a more direct pathway to becoming permanent residents.
Migrant justice groups also want the government to grant the workers open work permits so they are not tied to one employer and are free to leave their work for other employment, without fear of having to choose between working in unsafe working conditions or deportation.
Temporary foreign workers in Canada have lost their lives due to unsafe working conditions. They have also been deported when they have experienced injuries and health problems.
In 2015, Sheldon McKenzie, 39, died after he was deported to Jamaica following an injury he sustained while at work on a farm in Leamington, Ontario. The injury left him on life support. His family tried but failed to stop his deportation so he could access health care in Canada. McKenzie had been coming back and forth from Jamaica to Canada for twelve years, spending months in Canada doing manual labour on farms, sending the money he made to his wife and two daughters in Jamaica.
Temporary foreign workers enter Canada to earn money, often to send back home to their families. They grow and serve food, pack fish, provide care to children and the elderly, and do other kinds of labour that serve Canadians, but they are not afforded all the rights and benefits of other workers in Canada because they are not permanent residents or Canadian citizens.
Besides permanent residency status and open work permits, migrant justice groups across the country have long called for an end to Canada’s practice of detaining migrants, especially now that detention centres are high-risk places for exposure to COVID-19. Canada Border Services Agency has been releasing migrant detainees on a case-by-case basis.
To learn more about the struggles of migrant workers in New Brunswick and Canada, the NB Media Co-op with the Canada Research Chair in Global and International Studies is hosting the panel, The Coloniality of Coronavirus, with migrant rights and anti-racist activist Syed Hussan, temporary foreign worker organizer Connie Sorio and Dalhousie University professor Ajay Parasram on May 6 at 7:00pm by Zoom. All are welcome.
Tracy Glynn is a migrant justice organizer and editorial board member of the NB Media Co-op.